Nonviolent demonstrations against Israel's wall in Bil'in are met with violence
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01/12/10 Doris Norrito
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Hamde examines a display of spent weapons used by Israeli soldiers against nonviolent demonstrators.


photo by Doris Norrito

A small farming village near the Israeli border in the West Bank of Palestine is gaining international notice. According to the Friends of Freedom and Justice Bil'in website, Israeli soldiers have responded to weekly nonviolent demonstrations against Israel’s occupation and land confiscation with tear gas, rubber bullets and house raids. The result has been several injuries and a death last April.

Hamde Abu Rahma was born and raised in Bil’in. He says he studied to be an accountant and had once held a job in Israel, but nightly raids interrupted his sleep and checkpoint delays made travel difficult. As recently as last Friday, there was an attempted arrest of an Israeli activist and two injuries from high velocity tear gas canisters. Hamde says these are reactions to the peaceful protest demonstrations.

Hamde now works as a freelance photographer and as a translator. It is Friday, a day he usually attends the weekly demonstration in his home village. Today he joins English speaking volunteers helping to harvest olives in a grove in another village. Chanting heard in the background accompanies the activity.

The nonviolent protests are an ongoing struggle for the existence of the 4,000 people in the village. Traditionally, Palestinians build homes for their children on family land, but the land is being taken.

Olive oil is the chief source of income for Bil’in villagers. For generations, the farmers harvested the olive trees, some hundreds of years old. Then in 2002, Hamde said Israeli soldiers constructed the barrier wall in response to violent protests against Israel’s occupation.

Unlike the three story high concrete wall surrounding Jerusalem that separates it from Palestinian territory, in Bil’in the wall is built of razor wire and heavy fencing. Its price included the destruction of valuable olive trees.

Hamde says it's the leaders who don't want peace, but the people do. He expresses his hope for the future of Palestine.

Hamde takes photos at the Bil’in demonstrations. He says soldiers sometimes break cameras. The photos taken by Hamde and another Bil’in photographer can be viewed on the Bil’in websites.

The Bil'in villagers consider their non-violent resistance as a battle for their livelihood. Demonstrations have spread to other villages throughout Palestine. They continue to gain international recognition and world wide support.

Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil’in Popular Committee, said that at dawn on January 7th, about forty Israeli Occupation Forces raided the Bil’in home of Rani Ayub, but there was no arrest. Four weeks before, he had been arrested and remains in Israeli custody. Challenged to justify the break-in, Burnat said soldiers said they were just doing their job. Raids and arrests in the village occur regularly. Recently, children have been targeted. Photographer Hamde Abu Rahma found Amar Rayed Al-Kateeb, 13, and Sameer Jadallah Al-Kateeb, 14 hiding in an olive grove. Two weeks before, the boys had been kidnapped by soldiers and interrogated. A report issued by Burnat said he believed the intention of the kidnappings is to terrorize Palestinian children into giving false confessions that will implicate demonstration leaders such as Bil’in Popular Committee Coordinator Abdullah Abu Rahma. At present, Abu Rahma faces a charge of “possession of arms” (spent tear gas canisters).

Challenged to justify their heavy presence in the farming village, Israeli soldiers say they were there to "talk" and said they were "just doing my job."

On January 8th, following afternoon prayers, Palestinian, Israeli and International activists marched to the wall carrying Palestinian flags and holding pictures of Bassem Abu Rahmah. Last April, Rahma was struck and killed by a high velocity canister during the peaceful demonstration. He was remembered during a commemoration for the Martyrs anniversary. Burnat sent a message to US President Obama and to Egypt's Mubarak to stop supporting the wall and start working on peace.

Two injuries and the aborted arrest of an Israeli activist occurred during the weekly Bil'in demonstration on January 8th. Activists were subjected to heavy tear gas attacks and suffered from the inhalation.

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